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West Virginia is looking for a bounce back season

The Mountaineers hit the skids a year ago, but a return to the NCAA tournament isn’t out of the question.

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Oklahoma Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

With Missouri releasing their season non-conference schedule, we’re taking a brief look at each of their opponents. You can catch up with the previous posts in the series here:

The Big 12-SEC Challenge has been around since the 2013-14 season, and after participating the first few years, Missouri has been left out. The Kim Anderson years ushered in dark enough times to prevent Mizzou basketball from facing its former conference foes for the last four seasons.

But good news is the Tigers are back in the fight against the Big 12, partaking in the challenge for the first time since they got lit up in Norman, Oklahoma in 2014. Missouri will be taking part for the third time in its eight seasons, and ironically enough, the Tigers are taking on the West Virginia Mountaineers for the second time. West Virginia is also one of two teams in the current Big 12 makeup Missouri doesn’t have a previous rivalry with so of course they’ve been matched up against each other twice.

West Virginia has been in the NCAA tournament nine times in the last 12 years under Huggins, but in the midst of some roster turnover, the team struggled to defend— a calling card for the program over the last 5-6 years which earned the moniker ‘Press Virginia.” Led by Jevon Carter and his bulldog mentality, WVU became a top 10 defense. But since his departure things haven’t been the same.

Injuries and suspensions limited continuity, but looking at the roster and the Mountaineers’ coach, you expect they’ll be back and probably this year.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Last season: 15-21, 95 in KenPom

Torvik Projection: 32

Head Coach: Robert Edward Huggins

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Texas Tech vs. West Virginia Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Huggins needs no introduction.

But I’ll provide one anyway. Huggins is a future Hall of Fame basketball coach who has won over 800 basketball games spanning a career at Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State, and West Virginia, including two final fours. He rebuilt Cincinnati, flipped Kansas State, and has West Virginia is a good place, last season’s dip notwithstanding.

Huggins has largely been consistent, failing to win 20 games just five times in the last 20 years. He’s got to to find a way to get back there with a different look from his teams just a few years ago.

RETURNING PLAYERS OF NOTE:

  • Derek Culver: 48.1% %min, 11.5 ppg
  • Jermaine Haley: 62.0% %min, 7.1 ppg
  • Jordan McCabe: 44.3% %min, 5.8 ppg

The good news to come out of a rough season is Huggins was able to get some young and talented players exposure, preparing them for larger roles this upcoming season. Notably Derek Culver, a former top 100 prospect who didn’t play the first 13 of the season. He flashed a high upside offensively and an ability to rebound — being top 50 in both offensive and defensive rebound rates. McCabe can be a little careless with the ball, but is an excellent passer.

Huggins will try to marry a few wily vets with a solid core of young developing players, and sprinkle in an intriguing recruiting class in order to set his program back on track.

The Big 12 is always a difficult conference to maneuver through, but there is enough talent on this roster to get Huggins and his squad back into the tournament. Plus, this marks another difficult road game for Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin to get through, though one which presents an opportunity for a big road win.